In honor of International Business Women’s Day on the 22nd of September, Social Media and Business Development intern, Robyn Blassoples, interviewed CEO and Co-founder of Eventerprise Birgit Thumecke on what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and businesswoman. Discussing her career , as well as sharing some advice for aspiring Girl Bosses.
Q: What was your first job?
So besides next to school, while I was still in school, I volunteered in a hospital. My job there was to deliver the food to the patients and then to supplement my pocket money, I worked at a small bed and breakfast and I did prepare the breakfast service there very, very early in the morning, which is absolutely not my time.
But my first formal and official job was an apprenticeship in Berlin. I worked with the Edeka group, which is one of the biggest retailers in Germany. Apprenticeship, vocationally training, is very strongly ingrained in the German educational system.
I think something about more than 70% of all people graduating from high school before they even go to university, they do that. And it’s a dual system where you have theory a couple of days a week, where you go to school, and the other remaining days of the week you go to work. And I studied that for two years to become an expert in wholesaler export trade.
Q:What have you learnt from your first job that you’ve taken with you until now?
During my vocational training, which started at seven o’clock in the morning. Our work hours were from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM but since I’m not a morning person, I thought, I’m never going to be able to stick that out. Also, I was in my early twenties I wanted to party, which I did.
I stayed out half the night. I had a few hours of sleep and then had to go to work and it kind of felt like this is not my authentic self. Other people were calling me Mrs. Lewe, that was my maiden name and I felt that the school way too formal for me.
And I tried to fit into the environment until I realized that I have to be authentic and I have to be my through self. I can’t hide the way my through self when I spend time, as much as eight hours at place that I could work.
Q: Who or what helped you get to where you are today?
I never planned any career. What I do today is not a result of me carefully choosing who am I associate myself with, what university I go to, what’s compliant, and I just always in anything I do, I always gave it my all because I believe when you do something you might as well do it 100% committed because it’s a part of you.
You can’t actually fool yourself, in that sense. I think the biggest contributor to who I am today and as a result what I have achieved would be my mother. She instilled a lot of trust in me.
She made me believe everything was possible. She is a role model to whatever I did in life because she did it. She left apartheid South Africa in 1959 only to come live in Germany in a small town on the Dutch border where she was very foreign.
She was actually the first person of color to be ever seen in that place. So I think that’s pretty bold. Against all odds, against what her parents recommended her to do, against what was politically correct in South Africa at the time, against what the post war Germany was thinking was normal. So she really taught this to my sister and myself and she always, always instilled in us the sense that we should be true to yourself.
We should never over-comply to fit into something we don’t believe in and just just persevere. That’s what I got from my mom and what I think is the biggest part of me today.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
I really do sleep very well and I enjoy my sleep. I’ve got really awesome dreams and sometimes I don’t even want to wake up from those dreams. It’s not like I’m living in my dreams.
It’s just so fascinating what I dream about. So, but it happens the odd night that I can’t sleep and then it’s mostly that I ponder over something really neglect-able, some task or project that keeps me busy during the day, but not a major challenge.
So everybody would agree to me. I think that at night small things become big. And so I guess the best thing is not to try and force yourself to have to sleep because sleep is also overrated. I mean if one really can’t sleep and that happens to me very seldom, then I just stay awake and then I pray or meditate and meditation or praying is kind of the same thing. Yeah. For me.
Q: After your success of becoming CEO and Co-founder, what do you find challenging?
I find it challenging to lead people.
I enjoy it a lot and I will continue doing it. But I think that’s also the biggest challenge because you never know what you get, and you must not lose trust in people even though you will get disappointed.
And sometimes even betrayed. People try to bypass you. There are envious people out there and a lot of disappointment is coming your way. But there are always those stars in between people that you see talent in them, whose careers you can fast track, and they are all worth the disappointment you might get. So the biggest challenge of leadership, and again also the thing I like to do most.
Q: What are your tips for other Girl Boss’s on delivering a great pitch?
So if you pitch, again, be authentic in anything you do. So it’s often required that a pitch has to be, you know, it’s molded into a framework, like you have got 10 minutes, and these are the exact questions, and that is the agenda, and the index.
You can’t divert from it. So I understand why that is and it makes sense, but I still think if you have the time, the most important part is to tell a story and to relate to the people in the room or the people you pitched towards. Make eye contact, try to find an analogy that brings your story across a bit more in a tangible way than in a technical way.
So I would say make it a relatable story and I’m really engaged with the people in the room.
Q: Do you think women feel intimidated in business, or specifically the tech industry?
Yes I do. And it’s obviously harder for women. But I would also think that some men are intimidated by other men or by women. I think it’s still not a level playing field. Diversity, inclusion, and diversity and inclusion is something we hear in our everyday life, but is it really lived?
I think it still takes a few years until we can really say that there’s a fair play happening. So until that day, I guess women can feel intimidated at times. I mean, the vast majority of CEOs are still white men with about 60% so it can be quite daunting for some women, but it shouldn’t be because they also just boil with water. They’re humans They are not super power people.
But that hasn’t got anything to do with the agenda is just that there’s no balance. And I think a balance would be good to spur creative problem solving, innovation, and everybody should feel welcome at their place of work and they should all know that they can be authentic and their true selves and, in a very male dominated environment, that sometimes not the case.
Everybody is cloning and copycat-ing what the other one does and that is quite boring. Yeah, I’m all for diversity and I think as long as we haven’t reached that, it can be quite intimidating at times, but it shouldn’t be.
Q: What would you tell 21 year old Birgit?
I would tell her you’re in for a ride, Birgit. Brace yourself. You can do way more than you think you can. It’s really going to be exciting. Don’t be shy. Believe in your abilities.
Don’t get flustered about, what you don’t know, what if and what cannot be and what people think. As I said before, just believe in yourself. Find out what you’re good at, and then go for it and be resilient. It’s already worse when I was 21 or 22. Just be more resilient. Never give up.
Authenticity is the thing that I’ve learned to just not try to portray to someone else and never, ever try to fit in with somebody… What you think somebody else expect of you to be, because you actually don’t know what they think of you. You can’t control their beliefs and their opinions. So just be yourself. I think that’s very important in whatever one does in life.
Q: Why is Cape Town the city you choose to live in, and work from?
I visited Cape Town for the first time in 1991 together with my boyfriend Gotz, who’s now my husband. We traveled the whole country of South Africa. We flew into Johannesburg and we went all the way to Durban along the garden route and eventually we ended up in Cape Town, and we really enjoyed our time here.
In fact, in 91 while we were still busy studying, we decided we would like to live here. We actually contacted the German Chamber of Commerce, but they said we should go back to Germany to complete our studies, which we also did.
And then years later I was working in the airline industry. I was working for Lufthansa and my husband and I, by the time we got married and we already had a child, we always wanted to go live overseas and we still had South Africa on our radar.
But Gertz also has family in Chili, so we also contemplated on going to Santiago de Chile. But then I applied for a position within Lufthansa and I said, I would like to go overseas for them, and the application was for an overseas position, but I didn’t know that they would send me to Cape Town.
When I finally made it through all the assessment centers and interviews and what have you not. And I got offered the job. I asked them, well where am I going to go? And my then boss said that that was Cape Town. If I had anything against Cape Town, and of course I didn’t.
I was really delighted and we moved here because my application had nothing to do with my heritage or Cape Town. It was really going out of… leaving Germany and that it happened to be Cape Town was very welcome.
Q: Why are you passionate about what we (Eventerprise) do?
I think we are filling a gap here. We really, we found a solution to a big problem. We bring trust and simplicity to the equation. Right now the events industry is the absolute Wild West and there is no barrier to entry. There is no regulation, there is no transparency.
It’s basically a hit and miss. If you find an events supplier, you really don’t know if they can deliver on their promise. So everything is about today’s world, word of mouth and who knows who, so you don’t really can make an informed decision by finding out who’s actually available in your location, what have their previous clients said about the service offering and that’s what we do at Eventerprise.
And I think that that’s very much needed to also get some more innovation into the event space. And it’s a growing space. That’s the next thing that attracts me. It’s this sheer scale industry has globally and locally, whether it’s private or corporate.
And the last thing that really attracts me personally is also, I’m a customer advocate. I’ve always been in customer service, and in customer success. And I think it’s high time that the customer gets the power back and that customer is treated in a fair and a on a level footing.
And I think we do that at Eventerprise by I’m giving the customer better transparency and helping them in the interaction.
Q: What is it like trying to get people to invest funds?
Raising funds is like selling. It’s like leading. So you have to relate to people, you have to tell them the story, the story that you are convinced of, which I thoroughly am very convinced of our business case here with Eventerprise and conveying that conviction and also that enthusiasm coupled with a solid business case, of course, with a strategic plan that you really know what you’re talking about.
And then kind of pitching that, selling that to the audience, and again, leading relating to what they want, which is obviously a good return on their investment, but also generate the enthusiasm for the industry that we are in for the particular stuff that we are doing at Eventerprise, i.e. connecting the world of events, being the platform, and soon go-to marketplace where on the one hand side, you’ve got the vendors, and the other hand side, you’ve got the host clients and telling them everything about that value, creating relationship. That’s what makes an investor hopefully look up and hear up and getting interested in Eventerprise.